Thai golf on the ascendancy
While the region suffers from golf's decline, Pattaya helps country with great packages
At a time when golf is struggling to maintain its grip and status as a premier sport in the region, Thailand has upped the ante on a game from which it has achieved considerable success.
The number of golf courses in China - and Singapore - is dwindling, Indonesia and Malaysia are working towards checking the slide and the Philippines and Hong Kong have seen golf lose some lustre.
India, despite producing some world-class golfers, such as Anirban Lahiri - groomed mainly from a lucrative domestic circuit - is working towards translating this success phenomenon into increasing the number of players in a country where golf is viewed as a rich-man's sport.
Meanwhile, Vietnam and Myanmar are developing some new courses, while a little apathy towards the game is restricting Laos and Cambodia from gaining some ground as the game is relatively cheap to play there.
But Thailand, the country that has produced some world-class players in Thongchai Jaidee, Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Prayad Marksaeng, is enjoying a boon, thanks to the sincere and coordinated efforts of the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) which is promoting the game further in the country with its regular marketing efforts.
As Visanu Jaroensilp, TAT's deputy governor for tourism products and business, recently said: "Building on the tremendous success of last year's Travel Mart, this year's edition helps strengthen Thailand's premier position as a world-class golf destination and, as a result, attract more golfers to the country."
The Thailand Golf Travel Mart 2016 in Pattaya last month was attended by more than 300 participants, including some 165 specialist golf holiday buyers invited by 27 TAT's overseas offices.
The participants had the opportunity to discuss prospect businesses with about 92 Thai sellers from golf courses and service providers like golf schools, equipment retailers, travel agents and tour operators, hotels, spa operators and other related businesses.
I was among 42 local and international media invited by the TAT to gain insights into the event, as well as Thailand's myriad of offers for golf holidays.
Visanu said: "Thanks to Thailand's tropical climate, our country is in all-year round playing condition. There is a wide choice of golf courses; more than 200 courses with superb facilities and choices of unbeatable courses designed by leading professionals, along with a wide range of accommodation to comfort golfers after teeing off."
The Thai vision is to blend golf with its other attractions, such as the sun, sea, food and entertainment - all at relatively reasonable prices when compared with some countries in the region.
The choice of Pattaya golf courses makes the Eastern Seaboard area of Thailand a very popular destination for golf holidaymakers from around the world.
With over 20 courses to choose from, Pattaya is one of the most diverse areas for playing golf in Thailand.
Many Thai golfers from Bangkok reside in Pattaya in their weekend homes. Several fine international restaurants from Bangkok also have sister operations in Pattaya.
Sensing the demand for more upscale accommodation, many international five-star hotels have opened in Pattaya, thus providing lodging alternatives at every price point and standard of luxury.
The resorts provide plenty of relaxation and allow all golfers to enjoy a golf holiday in Pattaya.
Pattaya itself has 24 golf courses, each offering different scenarios for golf fanatics.
During the five-day trip, the media were given opportunities to play in three courses.
The first game was at Parichat International Golf Links, located 30 minutes from Pattaya.
It is a pretty course, but one where you needed a bucketful of balls as the ponds and lakes were placed at ideal locations to do damage to your game. So managing your game is the secret to success here.
Next stop was Pattana Golf Club and Resort, located north-east of Pattaya in Chonburi Province. It is one of only a few self-contained Thailand golf resorts integrating a 27-hole layout with a large clubhouse, sports stadium, conference centre, heliport and on-site accommodation.
The highlight of the three-day Golf Travel Mart - apart from interaction and buyer-meet-seller sessions - was a golf tournament at both Burapha Golf Club and Laem Chabang International Country Club.
I played at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Laem Chabang layout, a picturesque championship course considered the best layout in Pattaya and truly one of Thailand's finest.
The course aside, I must add that the female caddies were thoroughly efficient, as they not only knew the game but also spoke good English.